In Part 1, I wrote about how to keep your computer safe, using free software. In this article I will give suggestions on how to be productive with your PC, without having to spend any money.
Some of the most common tasks that computers are used for is writing letters, reports and papers, creating budgets and tracking items. All of these tasks can be accomplished using a modern office suite that generally consists of a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. The standard in office suites, over the past many years has been Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is a very good product; the only problem is you’ll need to spend between $150 and $400 to purchase it (depending on the package you buy). Also, you’ll need to spend that again, every few years, as new versions get released. An excellent alternative to Microsoft Office this is LibreOffice. It also offers a nice office suite, but the good news is, as its name suggests, it is free. The user interface may not be quite a polished, as Microsoft Office, but it provides all of the functionality that most users need. It is also compatible with Microsoft Office, so you can opens files created with Microsoft Office. Another alternative is OpenOffice. Internally, it is almost identical to LibreOffice, but currently LibreOffice seems to more actively developed and seems to have a slightly better user interface. A final option for an office suite, is to use Google Docs. Google Docs provides and online (browser based) set of office tools. This can be handy for sharing documents and also can be useful if you want to work on documents on several different computers. The drawback is, you need to have internet access. Of the three alternatives mentioned, I highly recommend LibreOffice.
You may be thinking “My computer already comes with a free Internet Browser – Internet Explorer”. While you are right that you already have a free browser, but you need to ask yourself, do you have the best (or even a good) browser. This article is not meant to trash Internet Explorer, nor is it meant to be a detailed technical comparison between browsers (there are many articles online to do that), rather, I would like to let the general PC user know that there are alternatives to Internet Explorer. The most popular alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox. I have been using Firefox as my primary browser for about 3 years and love it. What I particularly like the most, is the availability of add-ons and plugin, that really let me customize how I use my browser. I have recently also started trying out Google Chrome. It has taken me a bit, to get used to its minimalist look, but it is starting to grow on me. So, even if you are happy with Internet Explorer, you may want to give some of the other browsers a try.
One of the most common uses of a personal computer is to send and receive Email messages. Most people that use Email at work will be familiar with Microsoft Outlook, which provides an integrated EMail, Contact Manager, Calendar and Meeting Planner for the work environment. For most of us, this is overkill for at home, especially when you would need to pay $130 and $200. The best free alternative is Thunderbird, created by Mozilla, the same people who create Firefox. When you include the Lightning calendar add-on, Thunderbird provides with with all you need: a very good email client and a decent contact manager and calendar. Like Firefox, Thunderbird has many add-ons and plug-ins available to help you customize it. For those of you with many email accounts, Thunderbird is perfect, since it supports managing more than one account at a time. Another email option, is to stick with a web based email like Yahoo! or Google. The advantage is, you don’t have to install anything, and can access your Email from any computer. The disadvantage is you will need to have a internet connection to view your mail. Hopefully this article has provided you with some ways to get maximum use out of you computer and a minimum price. In my next article, I will discuss some free utilities, to keep you computer running smooth.